Three weeks ago, shortly after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its assessment of Russian cyber operations hacking into voting systems in all 50 states, I wrote about what I thought was both the real and most significant potential threat from this type of cyber operation. Specifically that the Russians, or anyone else who might decide to do the same thing, would not change votes or vote tallies, but would instead manipulate voter registrations.
There are, however, other weaknesses in our voting systems and practices. And two of them have been brought into focus over the past several days.
Mississippi held primary elections this past Tuesday. That is not particularly news, but what is news is that some of Mississippi’s touch screen voting machines seem to have their own preferred Republican candidate. In the video in the Twitter post below, you can see that the voter kept trying to select Bill Waller as his choice to be the Republican candidate for governor of Mississippi. The touch screen machine he was voting on clearly preferred Tate Reeves.
Buddy of mine trying to vote for Bill Waller and the machine continued to default back to Tate Reeves. He is not the only one having this issue.
— Taylor Rayburn (@STaylorRayburn) August 27, 2019
There are now three confirmed reports, including the one in the video above, of this occurring during Tuesday’s voting in two different counties. Bill Waller’s campaign, however, has stated that they have received reports of the same issue occurring in seven other counties. Investigations are ongoing, and it is unclear at this time whether this problem was widespread enough actually to affect the outcome of the primary election.
Georgia’s 2018 election has also been in the news again this week for voting irregularities. This has been a recurrent issue for Georgia for several years. Right now the focus is on documented irregularities in the Georgia lieutenant governor’s race in 2018. A one in one million anomaly has turned up in a voting precinct in Athens, GA, as ongoing attempts continue to investigate reports of voting machine and voting system problems and irregularities during the 2018 election. One of the six voting in this Athens’ precinct has registered the exact mirror image results of all the other machines at that voting site.
Because the Georgia Secretary of State has refused to open an investigation into the reports of irregularities, all the documentation has now been turned over to Congressional investigators. They are looking into how to conduct better and better secure elections in the U.S.
In Mississippi and Georgia, the voting machines in use did not require a paper ballot or produce a paper receipt with a record of the actual vote. Meaning that if the touch screen system did something irregular, and it was not caught by the voter and pointed out to a poll worker or recorded, there is no way to audit the votes cast, or intended to be cast, on those machines.
There are 12 states, including Mississippi and Georgia, that still use paperless electronic voting machines in some counties and towns. Four of those states – Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina – use them statewide. The Brennan Center has an excellent primer on these issues, which includes specific recommendations for how to improve voting integrity and security.
These security concerns and issues, some caused by old machines that have passed their designed lifespans, others caused because the machines do not require and/or produce an audit-able paper record of each vote cast, is another major weakness in America’s system for administering and conducting elections. One of the major concerns that arise from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on Russian hacking of the voting systems of all 50 states in 2016 is that it creates the possibility that Americans cannot know for sure who actually won any given election. Especially elections that are close.
Old, antiquated machines that no longer function properly, as well as machines and systems that do not produce an audit-able paper record of each vote cast, further increase this risk; that we cannot actually know who won any given election.
Election security and the entire American system of representative self-government and democracy is based on the integrity of — and American’s confidence in — our electoral systems. Creating overlapping forms of election security – from securing voter registration and information systems to having modern voting machines that produce an audit-able paper record of each vote cast – are essential to ensuring that American elections are fair and secure. Failing to do so is corrosive to American politics and a danger to the Republic.